Science, like blogging, is useless without ethics.

by Lillian Dell’Aquila Cannon

I have had the pleasure of having my comments on two other blogs deleted, not because of questionable content, but because the authors had no answers for me.  Both times, it was because I pointed out that science cannot exist outside of our culture and psychology.  What are people so afraid of?

In February, Kirstin, the author of the blog SquintMom, posted two articles on circumcision.  According to her site, she provides “resources for evidence-based parenting.”  I didn’t see the post back then, but I did recently get a hit to my site from her blog, so I followed the URL.  I couldn’t find anywhere on the page where my blog was linked, but I did read the whole article and the comments.  As I read, I became more and more angry.  In her series about circumcision, she examined the studies on circumcision and concluded that there is no compelling scientific evidence either for circumcision or against it.  As you might imagine, she got a lot of dissent from intactivists, much of it well-reasoned.  Any time a commenter brought up other studies, or questioned her inclusion or exclusion of any study, she dismissed his or her arguments, at one point going so far as to say “[M]y scientific background provides me with the ability to tease out the fact from the ideology,” as though only she was qualified to assess the evidence, not her interlocutors.  As Hugh Young pointed out, appeal to authority does not win an argument.  Later, she had to come on to tell the commenters that she actually thinks that circumcision is ethically wrong, but that science does not support that position.

By this point, I was unable to resist and began leaving some pointed comments, questioning her authority and asking for her IQ.  At first, she did respond to me on the blog, asking why I wanted to know her IQ, and telling me it was 184.  I replied in the comments, but you cannot read my reply on her site because she deleted it.  Luckily, I was smart enough to save it in my Gmail, and so can reproduce it here.  I wrote:

[I asked for your IQ] to point out that appeal to authority is not a valid argument.  Your statement of “I am a scientist so I can understand this” just begged to be taken to the ridiculous end.  Maybe I’ll go out and get an IQ test and then whoever wins gets to be right?  Or would you agree that that would be a stupid way to decide it?

I would argue that being so involved in science, making your living off of interpreting studies, would make you less objective because you have chosen to focus on science as a way of knowing, which normalizes and privileges that epistemology over all else.  My major disagreement is that you seem to be treating the whole topic of routine infant circumcision as an intellectual exercise, which is immoral, because we are talking about real people who are being harmed.  I know that the point of your blog is that you think there are objective scientific judgments to be made on parenting hot topics, but that, in itself, is a choice to judge science as a better arbiter of parenting practices than emotions or ethics.  You laid out all the science you liked, claimed the other studies were useless, drew a conclusion, then claimed that your conclusion on your chosen science was more valid because you have more authority on the topic.  Logical flaws abounded and I could not resist pointing them out.

Science is not a valid way to answer the question of whether babies should be circumcised for non-therapeutic reasons.  Apparently you also think it is not ethical, but this only came out after you got attacked for awhile in the comments, and then you wondered why so many people were so angry.  As a scientist, you should be aware of all of the times science failed us, and how science cannot exist without ethics, nor can it ever be severed from its cultural underlay.

For example, in the Korean study of circumcised adults, what you need to understand is that in South Korea, men remain intact until their mid-20s or when they are ready to be married.  This cultural practice surely informs their subjective evaluation of how circumcision impacted their sexuality, and we cannot ignore the fact that circumcision is a ritual marking the entrance to adulthood and thus has strong emotional and social meanings.

Another commenter pointed out that men who were circumcised for health problems also probably simply felt better because of the cessation of the health problems.  This is no small confounding factor, nor is it in American studies showing men who were circumcised as adults felt relief.  Men who are adults today grew up ignorant of the foreskin in an anti-foreskin culture – no wonder they felt better when they could relieve themselves of that shameful and embarrassing foreskin.  Babies born today are growing up in an evenly split culture that is not ignorant of the foreskin; they will not be ashamed and will value their foreskins.

You also ignore all of the case reports and self-reports of men whose penises were so damaged by circumcision that they cannot function normally, and of the babies who died or lost their glandes or whole penises, because you said the risk is low (as currently reported.)  However, there are several cultural and ethical rebuttals to this statement:

-Death and sexual disability from circumcision are not shared socially because parents do not want to share the reason for their baby’s death, likely because it touches on a hidden and unspoken psycho-sexual-cultural practice.

-Deaths from circumcision are usually reported as death from exsanguination or sepsis and thus are hidden from a simple count of death records.  It would take a careful epidemiological survey and study of hospital records of all dead male infants to find this, and this would cost money.  Who do you think wants to pay for this?  Surely not the same industry that earns $500 million a year from circumcision and who has recently made its appeal for continued Medicaid and insurance funding from circumcision.

-Adult men who were damaged by their circumcision also don’t go around trumpeting it because of the shame.  You can find them, though, more and more because of intactivism, and you can see some of their pictures and videos on the Global Survey of Circumcision Harm.  Perhaps this will produce enough numbers and impressive enough p values for you to take it seriously.

-Finally, and most importantly, it is unethical to perform circumcisions on infants when there is a chance of death and disability (no matter how small) because the proposed benefits of the circumcision can be had without the surgery.  It is immoral to risk a baby’s life and sexual functioning to give him benefits that he could have without amputative surgery, while pretending that one’s cultural and religious biases don’t exist.  But this is what you get when you do science in a vacuum, and this is why your whole post so incensed me.  Science is useful and can answer a lot of questions with great precision and accuracy, but it is not the only epistemology available to us, and not the best, either.  It always must be accompanied by ethical concern and a holistic understanding of the phenomenology of the issue being studied.  In your haste to squish a very difficult issue into a scientific framework, you have callously disregarded the fact that we are talking about actual human beings who will be affected by the conclusions you or the AAP draws from its chosen science.  If, as you say, you see circumcision as ethically wrong, then you have a duty to also say that the science does not answer the question, not because the scientific evidence is equivocal, but because science cannot answer an ethical question like this.

You must also adopt a stance of humility – if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it is that science is always advancing, and what was obvious and true and safe will often become obviously stupid and wrong and unsafe once we know more.  You seem extremely intelligent, and I applaud your education and attempts to educate people on the misuse of science, but it would do you credit to say that you don’t know for sure.  In the case of routine infant circumcision, we do not know for sure how it will affect any given man, so we do not have the right to impose that decision on him when he cannot resist.  This echoes the principle of medical conservatism, which also goes to show how biased many doctors are – if this were any other body part, they wouldn’t say there were benefits in amputating it, but even those intelligent doctors and scientists with IQs of 180+ can be blinded by their own cultural, psychological, and sexual biases.

 

First, let me point out that I have never deleted any comments on my blog but two: one was a pervert who wrote some really gross stuff (and I have a strong stomach), and one was my sister, who is mentally ill and was trying to upset me.  I have let critical comments go through for two reasons: I believe in what I say here, and I am open to changing my mind and considering new opinions.  I find it rather pathetic when bloggers delete critical comments – if they wanted their opinions to never be challenged, then perhaps they ought not to have a blog devoted to sharing them.  I do not appeal to authority, either.  You do not have to listen to me because I have a Ph.D., because I do not, nor because I am a mother of four, because every child and parent is different, nor because my IQ is 184, because I don’t know what it is and am suspicious of IQ tests anyway.  My position is always a philosophical position: simply by being in this world we have duties to it and the other living creatures in it.  I am not religious, but I know that I have to always try my best to do right by other people, regardless if it makes me uncomfortable.  I go out and inadvertently offend people in my family and online about circumcision because I know it is more important to speak for the powerless than it is for me to feel comfortable.  I have found that those who defend routine infant circumcision are always defending their own feelings or biases – they are themselves circumcised and don’t want to think about what they are missing, or they have circumcised children and don’t want to think that they might have harmed their children, or they are religious and so will not question the dictates of their religion.  I stand by my position on circumcision: it is not the parents’ right to choose to amputate healthy tissue from their child, no matter how pure their motivations.  It is fundamentally unjust.

Anyway, back to SquintMom.

I stand by what I wrote on her blog and am reproducing it here because I believe that even though I believe, as does SquintMom, that it is important that science not be misunderstood, I believe it is more important that it not be misapplied beyond its scope.  Yes, many people do not have the education to understand even the most rudimentary statistics or science, and this ignorance is bad for public discourse on issues like circumcision.  I do think it is valid to try to educate people, but perhaps it would be helpful in this education to include examples of the deliberate misuse of science and math, such as in the case of the African HIV studies that are being used to promote circumcision.  David Gisselquist has written extensively on HIV in Africa and the many problems with the three trials used to promote circumcision, and I encourage you to read his analysis.  On a more basic level, the authors of that study unethically reported the rate of HIV acquisition between circumcised and intact men as a relative risk, not absolute risk.  What do I mean by this?  In the 12 months of the study, 1.6% of the circumcised men contracted HIV, while 3.4% of the intact men did.  This is the absolute risk (and please note, other African studies saw no difference, or an increase in HIV rates among the circumcised.)  The studies’ authors, however, reported it as relative risk: “53% less likely.”  They did this because the absolute numbers make circumcision seem pointless to reduce the spread of HIV, and they banked upon the mathematical ignorance (innumeracy?) of the American public to be seriously impressed by the relative rate.  This is unethical, and it is a misuse of science which should interest SquintMom.

More important, though, is that the premise of the SquintMom blog is flawed.  It is inappropriate and unethical to exclude everything that cannot be assigned a number and lump it all together as “ideology.”  Science exists to serve human beings, not some Platonic ideal of a study that has 100% validity that could never exist in the real world.  Human beings do studies, and we are inseparable from our cultures and emotions.  Pro-circumcision types often claim, as SquintMom did, that there are not studies that prove that circumcised men have less satisfactory sexual experiences.  I disagree, as we have the excellent Sorrells study that concluded “The glans of the circumcised penis is less sensitive to fine touch than the glans of the uncircumcised penis. The transitional region from the external to the internal prepuce is the most sensitive region of the uncircumcised penis and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis. Circumcision ablates the most sensitive parts of the penis.”  Even so, how exactly would one prove with science that circumcised men and intact men feel the same level of pleasure?  Could we record their sexual experiences like in the movie “Strange Days” and then somehow rate who had the most pleasure?  Of course not – the experience of pleasure is subjective, and since we have men who are happy being circumcised and men who are unhappy being circumcised, we have no right to impose circumcision on them as it might result in unhappiness.

And that’s the problem with trying to scientifically prove a case for or against circumcision.  I do believe that we can and should use science to illuminate the issue, but it cannot be the only way we look at it.  Even if routine infant circumcision had huge benefits that could not be had in any other way (which test it currently fails), it still would remove healthy tissue from an unconsenting patient for future benefits in a non-emergent situation, and thus fails even the most basic of medical ethics: beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, autonomy, and proportionality.  The biases, emotions, and cultural backgrounds of the human beings doing the science will always be there and can never be severed from the conclusions, though many would like to pretend so.

This problem is not limited to circumcision.  As many personality psychologists have pointed out, America has a distinctly positivist, rational bent of thought, valuing science above such “softer, squishier” epistemologies like ethics or emotions.  Whether this is because of the effects of detached parenting practices, as my colleague Dr. Darcia Narvaez suggests, or of the culture, or a combination of both, we have seen a lot of it recently, especially in the AAP’s recent statement on circumcision that ignored the ethical questions fundamental to routine infant circumcision, or Pediatrics‘ endorsement of crying it out as a valid nighttime parenting technique.  For both of these statements, they chose to privilege scientific studies without addressing the ethics of the questions.  I have addressed the ethics of routine infant circumcision repeatedly, but the same argument can be made against leaving a baby to cry it out as a nighttime parenting method: it obviously causes the baby distress (as evidenced by the crying) and is, as we used to say in law school, neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve its goal of sleeping through the night.  It is not necessary because babies can learn to sleep longer without being left to cry (our four children all sleep fine without ever crying it out), and it is not sufficient because crying it out doesn’t work once and for all and has to be employed repeatedly as the baby passes through developmental stages (and can eventually get out of bed on his or her own to protest being left alone to cry.)  More fundamentally, they didn’t even question the goal of having a baby sleep through the night, which is an American ideal that is not universally shared.  Dr. James McKenna of Notre Dame has studied infant sleep and concluded that breastfeeding infants who sleep with their mothers enjoy many benefits.  In Japan, children sleep with their parents well into their childhood.  The Japanese are unlikely to produce studies that endorse leaving an infant to cry in a room as a valid parenting method because it would never occur to them to have that goal, nor that method to achieve it.  Why?  The Japanese see children as needing to be integrated into a collectivist society and co-sleep toward that end.  Americans see children as needing to be separated from dependents into individuals in an individualistic society, and place them in cribs and try to teach them to “self-soothe.”  You see, science is inseparable from culture, and to pretend that there are objective answers to subjective decisions is unethical and cowardly.  Routine infant circumcision is a messy issue that evokes strong emotions on both sides, and it should – caring for our babies is of utmost importance.  Dismissing that reality as not scientifically verifiable is both a stupid tautology and immoral.

[Postscript: I failed to save the comment I wrote on the other blog that deleted me.  This was a valuable lesson to always save my work!  I may try to recreate it here for my next post, though.]

This entry was posted in Circumcision, Cultural Relativism, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Science, like blogging, is useless without ethics.

  1. Patrick says:

    I always enjoy and appreciate your insightful blogs Lillian, though I haven’t commented before. That exchange was the most exasperating thing I’ve seen in the short time I’ve been following the movement, and I’ve seen that Joseph4GI bloke take on Jake Waskett! How Hugh7 didn’t pop a forehead vein I’ll never know. How on earth do you cope? I sometimes have a crack at owning these numptys myself, and this cross-eyed Kristen or whatever her name is has infuriated me too much to go un-insulted. Seeing as I’m 6 months late and she almost certainly won’t post it anyway I just went straight in with the thinly-veiled ad-hominem. Why **** around with someone who’s being so willfully obtuse? Sorry about the “you Americans” bit, I’m sure you understand:

    “Anyone who thinks amputating erogenous tissue from the genitals has a negative effect on women, yet somehow has a neutral or even positive effect on boys is hopelessly deluded.

    It is just incredible watching you Americans floundering around trying to justify the unjustifiable. The levels of cognitive dissonance and denial that this topic elicits can only be achieved by people totally immersed in a genital cutting culture, and probably seeking to justify their own family’s sexual sacrifice to the tribe, because that’s all circumcision is – a tribal marker, are you in or are you out?

    A little less insistence on scientific evidence and a lot more common sense is what’s needed here, but somehow a pro-circumcision stance precludes common sense from being achievable, because you are already in a position of trying to defend something that is utterly pants-on-head insane – the genital cutting of babies. SquintMom, it is disingenuous of you to claim to be unbiased, your pro-circ stance is glaringly obvious to anyone reading this thread.”

    Good luck in your campaign, thankyou for fighting genital mutilation and best wishes.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Thanks for the compliment, and for commenting on my blog. I know we seem insane from the outside. I can remember when I thought circumcision was normal. I remember a Jewish friend in law school talking about how her fiance (from Bulgaria) had to be circumcised before their marriage. I remember actually considering her proposition that it would make sex better for him. I actually considered such nonsense. When I first saw the Rosemary Romberg photos of the baby being circumcised, it hit me viscerally, and I knew I did not want to circumcise my then-gestating son, but I still researched circumcision for about two weeks. During that time, I got really confused and overwhelmed by all the studies claiming reduced UTIs, etc. Finally, one night, I had a thought (because I do all my best thinking while asleep): He would be born with a foreskin, so he should get to keep it. I tell you this to give you insight into how much our culture and background blinds us.

      Also, I love how you label infant circumcision as “pants-on-head insane.” That about sums it up. Unfortunately, when you tell those who have chosen circumcision that, they tend to get their hackles up.

  2. hsextant says:

    Excellent post and website. I was directed here by a comment in Jesse Bering’s latest post over at Scientific American.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2012/09/10/hey-andrew-sullivan-stop-calling-my-penis-mutilated/

    Not counting religious circumcision, not saying its right, just let’s set that aside from my discussion, I do not understand the absolute vehemence in which medically pro-circumcision people defend the practice. Here is a quote by Bering:

    “If you want your child to be at an increased risk of urinary tract infections, herpes, genital ulcers, HPV and HIV, that’s entirely your choice, and feel free to celebrate with other science-denialists sharing similarly misplaced passions.”

    Emphasis mine. He is basing that on these African and other studies (which he claims shows a 60% reduction in HIV transmission) and the latests AAP revised advisory. Here is the opening sentence of the conclusion of that revision:

    “Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.”

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/103/3/686.full

    Again emphasis mine. My IQ is pretty pathetic, but that sentence does not seem to me to be a resounding recommendation for infant circumcision that only a “science-denialists” would not embrace. If indeed “these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision” then how can anyone construe that the AAP is now recommending circumcision. Perhaps only non-routine circumcision, as though circumcision is something that you might do once in while, like flossing your teeth? Where the hell does Bering get off calling people who choose to not circumcise their children “science-denialists”?

    But let’s give Bering his 60%. So what? You only have to use condoms 40% of the time? Who in their right mind plays Russian Roulette with 2 bullets in the cylinder of a six shooter? How does getting a circumcision in any way prevent HIV transmission? If one pursues sex with risky partners and does not use condoms, he will get HIV. The average time for infection may be extended but he will get HIV 100% of the time. Sorry, circumcision does not allow not using a condom, and I think putting the idea in people’s head that they got a 60% chance of not being infected or whatever the hell that 60% means is a dangerous notion to bandy about. The fact of the matter is one must use condoms 100% of the time, so what is the efficacy of circumcision? What does the AAP say about that?

    “There does appear to be a plausible biologic explanation for this association in that the mucous surface of the uncircumcised penis allows for viral attachment to lymphoid cells at or near the surface of the mucous membrane, as well as an increased likelihood of minor abrasions resulting in increased HIV access to target tissues. However, behavioral factors appear to be far more important risk factors in the acquisition of HIV infection than circumcision status.”

    The last sentence in the above quote indicates to me with my low IQ that you are a damned fool if you think circumcision is going to save you from HIV. I believe that the similar rates of infection in Europe and the US would bear out that conclusion. So why circumcise? It is not because of the AAP recommendation that I read.

    Bering might not consider his penis mutilated but I consider mine mutilated (I think I have the right to apply that unsavory term to myself) and I deeply regret my role in mutilating my son’s penis. What have I lost? Well I really don’t know, now do I? It is like explaining the color red or green to the color blind, or maybe Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to the congenitally deaf. But let me take a stab at what I think I might be missing. I think I might be missing the ability to bring my wife to orgasm through coitus alone. I have an orgasm and ejaculate well before she is even warmed up. We have a way around that and I supremely enjoy it, but the fact remains that once I penetrate her, it will not be long before I ejaculate. So yes, I can take her to the edge with cunnilingus and usually hold out with coitus after penetration. On rare occasions I can hold out so that she may have multiple orgasms, but usually not. So our sexual life is loving and good. But I can’t help but to wonder what it would be like if I was intact. Imagine going through life and never hearing Beethoven, not because you were born deaf, but someone circumcised your ear drums for your own good.

    You can find more of my thoughts on circumcision on my blog:

    http://navfin.blogspot.com/2011/12/to-circumcise-or-not-to-circumcise-that.html

    Another genital mutilation that I have come to rant about is the FGM that is being practiced in every major city in the western world, Aesthetic Vaginal Surgery. Not for religion, not for custom, not for the idea that it is required for a woman to be marriageable, no, for fashion and for profit. Porn taught us to hold the shaved vulva as a standard of beauty (and youth–perhaps prepubescent youth). And now porn, much to many OB-Gyn’s glee, is teaching women that their inner labia are ugly. What a horrific travesty! Women, please, you and your daughters are beautiful and alluring just the way your are. Perfection can not be improved!

    http://navfin.blogspot.com/2011/05/avs-or-fgm.html

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Well, thanks! Now I don’t even have to write about Jesse Bering’s post since you’ve done such a good job! ;) I, too, took issue with his lumping in intactivists with “science denialists.” This is the classic whine of the scientist who lacks any background or interest in ethics, philosophy or history and who is unable to address people’s concerns. In the case of circumcision, the “science” has always served and followed the hidden motivation.

      In all seriousness, Bering has one good point: we probably should not use the word “mutilate” in mixed company. That was the rule on the Mothering.com Case Against Circumcison forum, and it was a good one, in my opinion. It just generates too much anger in those who are either circumcised or had their children circumcised and are still in denial. I think that men like you have every right to use it, and I think it is dictionary correct for circumcision, but it tends to impede understanding.

      • hsextant says:

        Yes, I can see how the term would cause anger, which is precisely why I used it, circumcision and female genital cutting (to use the PC term in Wikipedia) makes me angry. But you are right, if one wants to have a reasonable discussion on genital surgery, one should avoid invective and words that are emotional flash points.

      • Michelle says:

        It is the pro-circumcision crowd who are “science-denialists”. The evidence does not support infant circumcision in any way, shape or form.

  3. Andy says:

    Thanks for highlighting the misplaced focus of those who attempt to judge circumcision ‘objectively’, but who fail entirely to recognize the ethical question.

  4. Maria says:

    Excellent post Lilli. Systems Theory, the convergence of all our systems, is where we must address every issue that impacts actual human beings. This is a fantastic post and an excellent rebuttal to the dear Squint Mom.

  5. Pingback: Ethics and science shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. « Coffee and Kids

  6. Alfred Schram says:

    Thank you for this most reasonable argument. Would you allow me to copy it and distribute it to the members off the local NORM chapter? Any decent human being could not support infant circumcision after reading it.

  7. Cindy Elson says:

    “As I read, I became more and more angry. In her series about circumcision, she examined the studies on circumcision and concluded that there is no compelling scientific evidence either for circumcision or against it. ”

    I am an intactivist and completely on your side so I was surprised that the squintmom article angered you so much. I like the factual nature of her article and agree with it. Just as the Dutch and Australians have said recently in statements, there is no compelling scientific evidence either way. Why argue with that? Let’s argue circumcision based on what is tangible and clear – the ethics of informed consent and bodily integrity and frankly, on common sense (we don’t go around cutting off any of our babies’ other body parts). It is obvious to me that those who promote surgical alteration of a child are ethically beholden to justifying that choice with at least substantial if not overwhelming evidence. The fact that the scientific evidence is inconclusive is, in itself, a strong argument against routine infant circumcision.

    I understand that you don’t agree with squintmom presenting her case in the absence of any ethical framework. But I don’t see the need to get angry about that. Her goal was to be dispassionate and there is a lot of room for that technique in our quest. There are many parents who are scientifically minded skeptics and they will shut down when arguments become emotionally tinged. I know because I am usually one of those parents. Squintmom’s essays will have a lot more credibility with those types of parents than your blog. Some of those parents will be persuaded not to circumcise their child based on the non-emotional information. They might not be persuaded by a site like this.

    I am not trying to insult sites like yours and drmomma.org and the whole network. I just think there is a whole population of circumcision information seekers who will be immediately put off by the obvious bias of these sites and people like you and me. (We KNOW circumcision is wrong and are forthright about our stance – so readers will start out skeptical of our ability to be impartial). I think there is room for another flavor of circumcision discussion, one that is more dispassionate and impartial.

    • purist says:

      If she were addressing intactivists privately to help bolster their arguments, I might see the merit in her approach. But she is biased and her audience is real parents considering putting a real knife to their sons’ genitalia.

      And for all her self-proclaimed bullshit about being “scientific” she isn’t. If she were so “scientific” she would easily realize the homology argument breaks down when you consider function. For someone so “scientific” I’d say she’s pretty fucking stupid for overlooking the fact that (as you already know) the male parts being amputated comprise up to half the surface area of tissue and amputating them makes the normal bio-mechanics of sex a physical impossibility- whereas, amputating the clitoral foreskin, (as disgusting as that is), comprises a far smaller % of genital tissue and would have nowhere near the same destructive consequence on bio-mechanics. Notice how she springboarded off your approval-giving comment to proclaim the “ridiculousness” of the comparison to female mutilation. Real parents will read that and will base their decision to impair their sons’ sexual function on her bullshit “scientific” sophistry. Way to go there.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Well, I went to see what you wrote over on SquintMom and saw that despite you liking her approach, it didn’t prevent her from branding you, too, as illogical for comparing male and female cutting. Here’s what I wrote in response to that exchange, and I’m copying it here as I’m sure it won’t see the light of day:

      Genital cutting practices do vary in what they take, even among male genital cutting. Some take only a bit of the foreskin, leaving much inner foreskin and the frenulum. Others take all the foreskin and gouge out the frenulum. Some male genital cutting includes subincision (slicing open the underside of the penis into the urethra.) Female practices vary from a tiny nick on the clitoral hood, to removing the hood but not the clitoris, to removing the hood, clitoris and inner labia, to removing everything and stitching or letting it heal together (infibulation.)

      The clitoris is interesting in that it has two “legs” (the crura) that extend like a wishbone back into the body and around the outside of the vaginal barrel. Perhaps this is why many circumcised women say that they orgasm just fine and enjoy sex. Other circumcised women say that sex is always painful and never enjoyable. However, men show the same range of responses to male circumcision: some men orgasm just fine, and some men are unable to orgasm, or their shaft skin splits open when they become erect… On top of that, who says that reaching orgasm is the only purpose of sex? Are there not a lot of wonderful sensations before ejaculation or orgasm?

      Genital cutting happens both in a doctor’s office and in a dirty field in both cases, too. There are two male circumcision seasons in southern Africa, and during those months, you can read about the many young boys who die from their circumcisions. Or you can read about the baby girls being “sunat” in their doctor’s offices in Malaysia: http://www.moralogous.com/2012/02/16/aap-culturally-blind/

      Victims, or survivors, however you would like to term them, show a range of emotional responses to their cutting. Some women and men are happy to be cut and claim that it made them better in some way, including my sister, who chose to be circumcised because she is Muslim. Others of both sexes are unhappy to be cut.

      From a cultural standpoint, the motivations for female or male genital cutting are exactly the same. Both say that without being cut, the person will be unable to find a partner, will suffer from disease, and will be mocked. Both have their origins in controlling sexuality (though we have tried to forget about that in our culture, it was the original motivation, as you can read here: http://www.moralogous.com/2012/04/29/the-purpose-of-circumcision-is-to-ruin-male-sexuality/) Hanny Lightfoot-Klein has studied female genital cutting for many years and has a nice chart detailing the common attitudes in male and female cutting: http://www.fgmnetwork.org/intro/mgmfgm.html

      So, tell me again how they are not comparable? They both remove varying degrees of tissue, they both can result in a range of responses from a claim of no sexual impairment to total sexual impairment, they both involve cultural beliefs that have become medicalized, and both are often (though not always) forced on children. Those who claim that female and male cutting cannot be compared would do well to take off their own cultural blinders.

  8. Heather Green says:

    As you pointed out, I think that a major issue though with the dispassionate approach is that no one will ever be able to get funding for studies that accurately quantify circumcision complications or deaths. Our cultural and religious biases that favor circumcision in the U.S. and fear of liability from doctors prevent it, so it is impossible to say that there is “no compelling scientific evidence either for circumcision or against it”. You are still missing scientific data on the risks, a fact that the AAP noted, then apparently decided to quantify as zero. Logically, a parent should realize that if any potential benefits are extremely minor and obtainable in less invasive ways, and the risks are unknown, then I should not remove a healthy and functional body part from my children. But it just does not happen that way. Parents choose circumcision based on fear and emotion, not science. Every boy that I know personally here in the Midwest is circumcised, except my own three sons. The only parent who ever agreed with me about circumcision in real life was swayed by my argument that it is a human rights violation, but then she deferred to her husband who wanted their son to match him. It is “utterly pants-on-head insane”.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Thank you for your reply and for clarifying my point. Hang in there. It is hard to be in the Midwest on this issue but your sons will thank you some day.

    • hsextant says:

      You know I kicked around a little bit in the comments over at Squint Mom. This appearance issue keeps surfacing as though it has some vast moral validity. Here is the comment that I made regarding the need to look like dad.

      Let’s turn your question around. Immigrants from Africa move in next door. They are nice people and they are going to have a ritual circumcision of their daughter. You have been invited to the ceremony. How much weight will the argument hold with you, that if they fail to circumcise their daughter, she will not look like her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, or her older sisters? Valid argument? Would you object, or simply agree that this girl should physically resemble her relatives?

      I am circumcised. I have no idea if my father was circumcised. My son was born in 1983 and he was circumcised. Why wouldn’t he? Its what we do. A decision I deeply regret today. I have not seen my son’s penis since he was 5 years old, and I don’t believe that he has ever seen mine. We don’t exactly lounge around in the buff comparing our goods.

      In any event if we are going to use the argument of the importance of appearance, then we should actively support female circumcision in Africa because we don’t know how much damage may result by a generation of daughters not resembling the mothers. If that sounds a bit absurd, and I hope it does, then think again about how that argument sounds for the perpetuation of routine male circumcision in the US.

      The comment is still awaiting moderation.

      Heather I applaud your choice and courage. I wished I would have had an ounce of curiosity to ask somebody back when my son was born “why the hell are we doing this?” In my childhood and and young adulthood including 4 years in the military, I had seen one uncut penis. It never even entered my mind to question it or refuse. I bitched about having to pay for it and that was that. I was an ass.

      I applaud the efforts of people like Lilli who maintain their blogs and provide information to parents. The Internet made me aware of circumcision. I can’t help to wonder what am I missing, and I am deep ashamed that I so willing allowed this senseless procedure be performed on my son with no more thought or consideration than being P Oed about having to pay for it.

  9. hsextant says:

    Well here is SquintMom’s reply to Cindy’s comment at SquintMom’s blog. Ordinarily I wouldn’t post replies to other people’s comments, but unfortunately it is also a reply to my two comments that she refused to post. They were awaiting moderation for about 24 hours and have now simply disappeared, and I assume the reason being as she explains below.

    Thank you for your comment. I want to make a few things clear: I personally do not take a stance for or against circumcision, though many who have commented suggest that I do. Secondly, religion — the reason many people circumcise — is a force separate and apart from scientific logic. That is to say, a person who would not otherwise believe circumcision is a good idea because the natural state of the male is with a foreskin might choose to circumcise anyway if they believe that it’s a mandate from god as a result of a covenant with Moses or some such. Religion, therefore, becomes its own driving force that can neither be supported nor refuted with scientific literature. This is why, even though the literature leaves ME PERSONALLY (and anyone else looking at JUST the science) at a stalemate, circumcisions will continue to take place among those for whom the decision is a moral one rather than a logical one.

    Reply
    SquintMom
    September 21, 2012 | 8:32 pm

    Actually, reading your comment really made me think (enough so that I am posting a second response to it). When I wrote these two circumcision posts, having looked at all the literature, I concluded that I was at a scientific stalemate. As more and more ridiculous comments from intactivists who were citing irrelevant, poorly conducted, or faulty studies started to pour in, The ridiculous comparison of male circumcision to female circumcision is yet another failure of logic that works against the intactivists when it comes to speaking to scientists. The fact that someone randomly decided to call the two procedures by the same word makes them no more similar than inflammable (an object that catches fire easily) and inflammable (an object that is not flammable), as I pointed out in an earlier comment in which I addressed the embryological origins of the tissues taken in the two cases.

    Point(s) being:
    1) Thank you once again for your comment. It’s nice to run across an intactivist who understands that the science does not come out against circumcision, even though ethics very well may.
    2) I hope you occasionally take the time (frustrating though I’m sure it is) to educate fellow intactivists about misuse and misinterpretation of science, and to explain that when a scientist says “The science can’t be used either to support or oppose circumcision in a conclusive way,” said scientist is not necessarily pro-circ, nor is said scientist necessarily saying that ETHICS can’t play a role in making the decision.

    Emphasis mine. I perused some of the comments on her second article and I found this comment:

    Hi. This is my first time commenting, but I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I am pregnant with a boy and am trying to decide whether to circumcise. I posted on the Mothering.com forums, and the women there are very anti-circumcision. It seems like they make a lot of unsupportable claims, though. For instance, they say that there’s no reason for a boy to look like his father, since they won’t be sitting around with their penises out. I think (but I don’t have the scientific evidence to back it up) that children probably get a lot of their early sense of sexual identity from comparing their bodies to those of their parents. A little girl knows she’ll GROW breasts, and a little boy will get a bigger penis like his father’s…but an uncircumcised boy knows his penis won’t look like his (circumcised) father’s penis when he gets older. Also, my understanding is that the majority of white, middle-class boys in the US are circumcised. What would be the effect on a boy’s psychology of looking around the bathroom or gym and realizing his penis is different? Also, what if he’s in high school or college and hears girls making fun of the way an uncircumcised penis looks?

    So we are not talking HIV, HPV, penal cancer, cervix cancer, sensation, child rights, wishes of the adult, or any other issue than appearance. Is it a valid consideration? In my mind no. It does not exceed the right of the individual. However, I can understand this woman’s concern. So I wrote the reply concerning appearance that is posted directly above this comment. Apparently my use of the word circumcision with females is verboten. OK fine. So lets call it Female Genital Surgical Procedure, let’s call it whatever you want to call it, but I have seen it called female circumcision. My point is the end appearance of the procedures. Does Male Genital Surgical Procedures change the appearance of a penis? Yes. Does Female Genital Surgical Procedures change the appearance of the vulva? Yes. Is there any thing non-scientific about my statement above. AGAIN PLEASE REMEMBER WE ARE DISCUSSING APPEARANCE. So I would like to know how does what I said in the above comment qualify as:

    The ridiculous comparison of male circumcision to female circumcision is yet another failure of logic that works against the intactivists when it comes to speaking to scientists.

    How is what I said about appearance a failure of logic? Do both procedures change the appearance of the genitals? Yes. How are worries about the female appearance non valid if male appearance is valid.

    I think SquintMom provided the answer to my question:

    “I believe I started to realign myself with the pro-circ group simply to distance myself from the throngs of illogicals (a cognitive bias: if they are illogical and I am not, then I must not agree with their conclusion). “

    Elementary my dear Watson!

    Well please pardon me now, it is Saturday. I must take leave, fetch my pitchfork and torch and meet the throng over at the castle. We are going to storm the logicals tonight.

    Oh I had a second comment at the end of the post which probably did qualify as a bit rantistic, maybe illogical. You could tell I was a member of the throng. I asked why was I circumcised in 1949? I provide that usual intactivistic atavism of illogical claims about fears of masturbation in the 19th century, that got white washed out over the years to something vague about hygiene and and looking like your father. It was real radical stuff that would poison the minds of any scientifically disposed person. I didn’t copy it, and to be honest it was not a great loss to we the great unwashed throng with our lack of logic, pitch fork, torches, emotions and ethics.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      So it’s logical for her to take the side of the pro-circumcision people because she is annoyed with the intactivists? Uh, okay. Well, keep trying if you have the stomach for it, sir.

      • hsextant says:

        No I will post comments here and at my blog where they will actually get published. I am far too illogical for SquintMom. I did a new blog post which condensed my thoughts with Jesse Bering’s science-denialist and being censored as one of the illogical throng at my blog. Pretty much the same thing I said here, but laid out better chronologically. Unfortunately it is a P Oed rant, sorry I used the M word against your advice, and will be regarded as the ravings of a furry science-denialist in a throng of illogicals.

        http://navfin.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-throng-of-illogicals-and-science.html

        Well if you don’t mind, I have a whole pile of science books laying here that I no longer need and some hot dogs to cook, so I think I am going to go build a fire. I have a flat Earth and Planet X meeting to attend tonight. Why are we even worried about any of this, the world is going to end in December anyhow.

    • roger desmoulins says:

      “…but an uncircumcised boy knows his penis won’t look like his (circumcised) father’s penis when he gets older.”
      A 1 minute conversation with a boy when he’s 4-6 will easily banish this wolf.

      “Also, my understanding is that the majority of white, middle-class boys in the US are circumcised.”
      This varies much by locality and by ethnicity.

      “What would be the effect on a boy’s psychology of looking around the bathroom or gym and realizing his penis is different?”
      Tell an intact boy about to enter kindie or 1st grade that his penis is completely normal and healthy, and that some boys had the skin covering the end cut off at birth. Tell him that he was spared painful minor surgery.

      “Also, what if he’s in high school or college and hears girls making fun of the way an uncircumcised penis looks?”
      Heading this off at the pass will require a more savvy conversation around age 15, after his sex education is complete. This conversation will be a sad introduction to a sad topic: some young women are shallow, sexually ignorant, and judgemental. But in no way is this an impossible conversation to have. Should parents pay for breast implants of modestly endowed girls in order to improve their chances of being chosen homecoming queen and getting admitted to a hot sorority in college??

      • Michelle says:

        In response to the issue of intact boys being upset at finding out they are different from other circumcised boys, I have to share that my sons (at the ages of 5-7) were appalled when they found out about circumcision. They could not believe that such a thing was legal or that physicians were allowed to do such a thing. They consider their foreskin to be the best part of the penis. If a young child can figure out that circumcision is wrong on so many levels, then why would they ever think they are the abnormal ones? In my experience raising two sons, it has been the circumcised boys who feel troubled by not having all their parts. They are the ones wishing they had been left alone. Boys raised with a strong sense of self-esteem need not feel any shame. There is quite a bit of variability in nature, and people should respect their differences rather than make others feel they should conform to some arbitrary standard.

        • hsextant says:

          Your sons being appalled at the notion of circumcision just demonstrates what an appalling practice it is. Children often see truths about the world that adults have long forgotten under the sediment of acceptance, out of the mouths of babes so to speak.

          Your last sentence regarding the variability of nature and respecting differences rather than conforming to an arbitrary standard is spot on regarding the world of genital surgeries…not only male circumcision but adult aesthetic vaginal surgery. Some women are being persuaded by porn and unethical OB-Gyns that their inner labia are unnaturally deformed and are submitting to expensive, painful, “designer vagina” surgeries that can result in nerve damage and other complications. The arbitrary standard is a “smooth Barbie” look being promoted by pornography and “bad before” photos and “good after” photos by the surgeons. So we basically have the situation where doctors are joining forces with porn to establish a false “standard of beauty” for an area that no one but the woman’s sexual partners and doctor sees. These surgeries are not covered by insurance, are not controlled by any licensing body, and are not sanctioned by any medical or surgical association. A labiaplasty can net the doctor 5 to 10 times of what they would make on a hysterectomy and it is pure unregulated profit. I wish more people exercised the commons sense that you expressed in this post.

          • Michelle says:

            I doubt most women having these designer surgeries understand that the labia provide for extra tissue that stretches during labor to allow for childbirth. The scarring from such surgeries will impede vaginal delivery and increase the C-section rates, but then these women and Ob-Gyns probably already decided against vaginal deliveries or even having children.

          • hsextant says:

            Michelle,
            Unfortunately I don’t think that many of these women have thought much of anything through on these designer vagina surgeries. Do they realize that they may be blunting their ability to have an orgasm? Do they understand how high the re-work rate is? Who pays to repair a botched job?

            What will happen when the “little girl” look in porn gets old and inner labia and pubic hair, the mark of a sexually mature woman, is suddenly fashionable again? Hair grows back but inner labia do not. Will these same women be running off to the designer surgeons to get labia implants? It is insanity. These women are paying huge sums to replace their natural individual beauty with a drab, boring, industrial, minimalist result–a standard of “beauty” determined by pornography and greedy bastards that should be using their talents to heal women rather than modify them at extreme and unjustified profits and unjustified risk to their patients. Those designer vaginas are paying for a lot of sports cars and vacation homes.

  10. purist says:

    I think it would be in order to break up the link to her site in order to not help her site’s Google ranking. Especially now since she compared prepuce amputation surgery to “trimming of fingernails”.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      She did? Recently? Well, I did break the links.

      • purist says:

        Sorry, I may have misrepresented her meaning:

        “female genital cutting includes the removal of so much tissue that it’s no more like male circumcision than, say, trimming a fingernail is the same as cutting of a digit.”

        Still repugnant and insulting, though. Oh, but she’s soo thiientifffic.

  11. Mel says:

    I don’t really have anything to add to the post or the comments. This page is full of outstanding clarity of thought. Lilli, your argument reminded me of Adam Curtis’ most recent docu series, titled “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”. The scientifically educated probably won’t find much new there, but for people like me it’s recommended viewing. The sum total of things like Ferberizing and MGM appears to be the result of a complete cultural overreliance on machine logic. Not quite incidentally, this is a very basic trait which present-day USA shares with the USSR.

    The deeper irony here points to the fundamental dilemma of Libertarianism btw. By radically excluding “irrational” values like ethics (or Christian values, if you’re so inclined) from the equation, as has been amply pointed out, you’d end up in Somalia, at worst. But the true dilemma is that *at best*, if we were to strictly follow Libertarian politics, *at the very best* we would end up in the totalitarian reality of *Soviet Russia*: If it can’t be read by machines, it doesn’t matter. Where the comparison breaks down is that in Soviet Russia, male circumcision was outlawed, even for Jews.

    Compassion and solidarity also come at a price, but it is demonstrably lower. Just read any study on the relation between income distribution and health/happiness/stability of a nation.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Thank you, Mel.

      It is interesting that you mention libertarianism. One of the last screeds I posted on Facebook before I closed my account was against libertarianism. I have noticed that libertarianism seems to be popular among a certain sort of young man who also likes Reddit and who I might accuse of scientism. I think they are attracted to libertarianism because it offers this rational political Platonic ideal in which everything is fair and the rules of the game are clearly laid out and minimal. They think that arbitrary laws and human frailties get in the way of a perfectly fair political system, and that the system, if left alone, would naturally optimize itself. It has a mathematical, logical precision which attracts those who do not yet have the psychological integration to be able to handle anything beyond dualisms. They cannot handle grey areas, multiple and conflicting causalities, or messy and illogical human motives, and prefer to think that people can be reduced to behaviorist principles. Based on this worldview, they think that libertarianism will produce fair outcomes, but only because they discount the arbitrariness of their birth, the luck of their circumstances, and the many ways in which people will behave unkindly and hurt others, all the while thinking they are good people. In a libertarian system, the rich will still buy a better life for themselves, and those who were unlucky enough to be born poor, or unloved, or less intelligent, or unhealthy, will suffer more. It’s just that the winners will get to believe that their success was entirely self-made, and the losers’ failure was also self-made. This is a lovely and self-serving fairy tale, but to my mind, it shows a severe lack of spiritual and moral development. I believe that those people, like myself, who were born with every advantage, ought to be grateful every single day for their luck in the lottery of life. They ought to spend more time trying to share their good fortune with others, and less trying to justify and consolidate it.

  12. Michelle says:

    Thank you for your beautifully written comments. As someone who is quite well-versed, and has published, on the topic of male circumcision, I cannot understand how Squintmom missed all the evidence pointing towards the absolute harm of infant circumcision. “Scientific evidence” is never looked at to justify the removal of any other normal healthy body part, especially on infants. All the so-called “science” will never justify violating the human rights of another human being. Keep up the good work!

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Thank you. If you read her comments carefully, you see how even someone who is all about SCIENCE has let her own feelings about people who disagree with SCIENCE cloud her dispassionate judgment. ;)

  13. roger desmoulins says:

    Lillian, I thank you very much for your brilliant post above. The longer comments on your post are mostly brilliant as well. You addressed in a coherent way all sorts of inchoate reactions I have been having about the writings of Brian Morris and about the AAP’s Technical Report of 27.8.12. Those parties seem to think that journal peer review and impact factors, and the prestige of the authors’ affiliations, are guarantees of factuality. That the only way to reach a valid conclusion is from a narrowly positivist notion of “evidence”, and by statistical analysis. I have extensive training in statistics and have published in social science journals. You and I know that data and statistical methods can be misleading, even treacherous, that good empirical work requires a host of judgement calls (in the academic work you read as a student and on the job, do authors employ the phrase “maintained hypotheses”?), and that careful scientific work requires common sense and shrewdness as well as adherence to protocols. The defenders of circumcision strike me as having being innocent of the writings of Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, or Nancy Cartwright on scientific method.

    I agree that there is no compelling evidence against routine circumcision, for the following reasons:

    1. The technology for quantifiying the quality and functionality of sexual experiences does not yet exist. Hence the effect of circumcision on the quality of the sexual experience of both genders cannot be known for certain. I am confident that by the end of this century, it will be possible for couples to go at it in some sort of scanner, whose digitised output will be analysable by standard biostatistical techniques.

    2. Routine infant circumcision began around 1880, and by 1900-10, was not rare among boys born in urban maternity wards in the USA and UK, to middle class parents. Over the course of last century, about 100 million Canadian and American boys were circumcised in infancy, almost always without anesthesia. You would think that we would have a lot of data by now on the sequaliae of RIC but we don’t, simply because we haven’t collected it. And what we don’t collect, we cannot analyse.

    There has never been a careful survey of the adult penis, based on a large stratified random sample of men, and including a detailed interview of their partners. We honestly do not now whether RIC exacerbates PE, ED and vaginismus, what fraction of adult men have uncomfortable erections because of RIC. We do not have careful data on the extent of adult scarring resulting from RIC. In my view, the only long term sequalia of RIC that has received adequate attention in the American urological literature is meatal stenosis.

    It is more difficult to convince older men to reveal to investigators their intimate bodies and their sexual histories, and what they think about the intimate body and sexual acts. Hence we lack crucial information about circumcision and the aging male. I have a very strong suspicion that over the 40s and 50s, sex gradually grows dull for many circumcised men. This is invariably perceived as a natural consequence of aging. I am 63 and intact, and have noticed a dulling of my penis in recent years. Most of what I feel when I pay my marital respects to my spouse, I feel thanks to bits I would lack had I gone under the knife at birth, as was the norm for nearly all boys born in my place and time.

    Laumann et al (1997) convinced me that circumcised American men either are more likely to engage in sexual practices other than vaginal intercourse, or are more willing to admit that they engage in such practices. I have a strong suspicion that the American fixation on oral sex is linked to the fact that circumcised men tend to find boring other forms of foreplay and vaginal intercourse. Quite a few sexually experienced American women have blogged and commented that they prefer intact partners. Hence we need to interview several thousand American and Canadian women who affirm that they’ve “been with both”, and to explore which sort of partner they prefer, and why. Several women have messaged me over the years, saying that circumcised young men tend to thrust too fast, too hard, and too deep, often without the necessary preliminaries. Slang terms for this style of sex include “jackrabbit” or “frat boy” sex. In Europe, there is no mention of any men behaving in this manner. We need more data on how the to and fro of the foreskin enhances cushions and enhances penetrative sex.

    The appropriate conclusion to be drawn from (1) and (2) is not that RIC gets a pass, but that RIC should not be performed, because medicine cannot fulfill its duty to “first do no harm.” A corollary of that duty is that medicine has an ethical duty to collect and analyse data from circumcised and intact adult men, data bearing on (1) and (2).

    Routine circumcision is not so much a treatment of unresolved prophylactic value, but the biggest unsolved problem in the social psychology of American sexuality. Circumcision is also a bizarre religious ritual, associated with two major religions. One of these religions is notorious for its prudishness and authoritarian outlook. But it circumcises boys, not because of a divine mandate, but because of a belief that a clean body symbolises a pure soul, formulated in a world where running water and sewers were unknown. Ironically, the other circumcising religions is known for its liberal outlook on human sexuality and its warmth to the scientific method.

    Circumcision is a classic instance of what Richard Dawkins calls a meme, because circumcised men and many women who grew up among such men, have a strong psycho-sexual desire to abolish the foreskin, perceived as unsanitary and as sexually off-putting. Because circumcision is a major alteration to the Ground Zero of male sexuality, the tip of the penis, the meme has proven particularly tenacious. Human sexual desire is strongly visual, even among women.

    New Zealand and the UK have completely abandoned the practice, and Australia and Canada are most of the way there, thanks to the willingness of the medical profession in those countries to lead instead rather than to pander to psycho-sexual and cosmetic insecurities. Here in New Zealand and beginning around 1960, circumcised doctors urged mothers to leave their infant boys alone. Thus between 1960 and 1985, routine circumcision gradually disappeared from New Zealand maternity wards. During that time, there was not a single lay intactivist in all of New Zealand, and this change in maternity ward practice went unmentioned in the media until the rise of American intactivism in the 1990s (it may have been mentioned in prenatal classes).

    P.S. In my experience, libertarians are cool or downright hostile to RIC because of the high value they place on personal autonomy. One of the very few USA professors of medicine to take a forthrightly intactivist stance was Thomas Szasz (1920-2012; may he rest in peace) who taught for several decades at SUNY Syracuse. Szasz was also THE libertarian in the USA medical profession. He was notorious for arguing that the bar for committing someone against their will to a public mental hospital should be set very high. He won that battle, and most state mental hospitals, the “snake pits” of yore, are now closed. His opposition to RIC, as well as that of Nobel laureate in Medicine, George Wald, are little known in the wider culture.

    • Mel says:

      Libertarians pay lip service to the intactivist stance. However, their politics do in fact favor routine genital cutting, and there is no two ways about it: Circumcision means profit. Placing restrictions on circumcision means placing restrictions on how people can make money. Therefore, intactivism and libertarianism are in fact 100% incompatible, regardless of libertarians’ lip service.

      • roger desmoulins says:

        A libertarian has told me that he is nervous about using the legal system to limit the discretion of parents on how they raise their kids.
        But libertarians do NOT favour profit made at the expense of the rights of others. Nor do they favour profit made at the expense of a child too young to think and talk.

        Szasz supported mental hospitalisation if the patient agreed to it. But when the state hospitals were closed, their patients were discharged regardless of their wishes. What happened with regard to Szasz and state hospitals was a classic instance of “be careful of what you wish for.” The state hospitals were not closed because state legislatures came to agree with Szasz’s writings. Rather, states were keen to save money and avoid losing lawsuits. If you die in a state (or any other) hospital because of brutal treatment by doctors and orderlies, that’s actionable. If you freeze to death in a public park on a winter’s night, because no state hospital would take you in, that is not actionable.

        This suggests, BTW, that RIC will stop in the USA when malpractice insurers cease to cover it.

    • Mel says:

      >”He won that battle, and most state mental hospitals, the “snake pits” of yore, are now closed.”

      As a result, many people became homeless. Yeah, Szasz did a real favor to those people, they are now completely “free”.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      I know libertarians who see circumcision as a parental right and thus are hostile to intactivists. I also know libertarians who see circumcision as an infringement upon rights. I seriously doubt that the two categories have anything to do with each other.

      As for the mentally ill homeless, I always blamed that on Ronald Reagan. ;) Truce, friends?

  14. purist says:

    I found her pseudo-logical dismissal of the denial dynamics of infant-circumcised men to be especially insulting and hurtful. How, for instance, does she account for the consistent theme of otherwise mild-mannered men becoming emotionally unhinged, often sneaking behind the mothers’ backs, when their desire to circumcise is threatened. Her facile dismissal flies in the face of practically everything written about on this blog. The fact that her words would invoke feelings of outrage in me, and I’m assuming thousands of infant-circumcised men like me ( for me, specifically, a feeling of getting round-house kicked in the ribs) should be evidence of something, shouldn’t it. How scientific is it of her to ignore all that.

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